Get ready for possible side effects of chemotherapy

Ask questions and work with your health care team to prepare for chemotherapy so that you know what side effects to expect and how to manage them.

Chemotherapy works by killing rapidly dividing cancer cells. As it wipes out cancer cells, though, chemotherapy can also destroy fast-growing healthy cells. This may cause you to experience side effects.

Lower blood cell production

Your bone marrow's ability to make blood cells might decrease.

  • Anemia. You may not have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your tissues, which can leave you feeling tired or short of breath.
  • Bleeding. You may not have enough platelets — a blood cell that plays an important role in forming blood clots — to help prevent bleeding when you're injured.
  • Infections. You may make fewer white blood cells, which protect your body from infections. An elevated body temperature may be the earliest sign of an infection.

Gastrointestinal symptoms

The lining of your stomach and intestines could become damaged.

  • Diarrhea. Your body's ability to absorb nutrients from food and get rid of waste might be affected.
  • Nausea and vomiting. Damage to your stomach and intestinal lining can also cause nausea and vomiting.
  • Constipation. Though less common, constipation also can be a side effect of chemotherapy.
Aug. 29, 2014 See more In-depth